MarketingProfs B2B Forum is going virtual... with a twist. Don’t miss it.

Ann Handley and Shelley Ryan of MarketingProfs are back to guide you through the technical steps for ensuring your webinar becomes a smash hit—as much within your own organization as among the intended audience.

(Also see part 1 of this article series: "Webinar Essentials: Five Must-Have Ingredients of Success.")

It all starts with creating a great user experience and initiating the conversation, then following through with prospective clients to make sure the relationship jell. Here's how.

1. Make It Interactive

"No one wants a one-way conversation in this Web 2.0 era... you need to make sure you have a way to keep the audience engaged," advised Ryan. Achieve that engagement with the following steps.

Incorporate chat and user polls

Get attendees involved in the conversation and enable them to voice any questions they may have about the webinar content so that the speaker can offer clarification and additional value at the end of the presentation.

There are three types of chat platform from which to choose:

  1. One-way or private chat enables the audience to post questions that no one other than the speaker can read. In MarketingProfs's experience, this is better than no chat at all, but it can leave audience members feeling as if they are "shouting into a black hole," noted Ryan.
  2. Public chat is more of a "free for all," wherein anyone can post a comment at any time for all to see. According to Ryan, this really changed the dynamic of MarketingProfs's online seminars and earned an 85% approval rating from surveyed attendees. The remaining 15% found it distracting.
  3. Moderated chat, which Ryan considers "the best of both worlds," offers a semi-public forum but cuts down on the congestion by tasking a moderator to determine which questions and comments should be made visible. This is the format currently employed in all MarketingProfs online seminars.

If your Web-conferencing technology does not support a chat feature, consider using a backchannel such as Twitter to enable audience participation. With Twitter, for example, you can set up either a designated account or a hashtag term for attendees to follow.

Make sure, however, that your attendees are familiar with the backchannel (in this case, Twitter), have accounts (or have guidance in setting one up), and know how to search conversations or posts involving your designated account or hashtag.

Commission a moderator

Regardless of your choice of chat platform, appoint a someone from your organization to manage those incoming questions and ensure every participant feels heard. This person should possess the ability to...

  • Multitask, since, as Handley noted, "questions from the audience can come flying fast and furiously"
  • Think on his/her feet and quickly handle any issues. (Note: to assist the moderator, prepare a technical script ahead of time that details who should be doing what and when.)
  • Filter, or "sort the wheat from the chaff," as Ryan likes to say, and understand the underlying question so that the Q&A session continues to provide real value for attendees (knowledge of the subject matter would help here)

When possible, Handley also suggests, you should enable a backchannel—such as instant-messaging (IM) or a private line—for communication between the moderator and speaker so that the speaker can provide feedback on which question he or she likes most.

"It's a more relaxing way to run Q&A when you have a sense that you and the speaker are both on the same page," she said.

2. Ensure Good Flow

Limit your webinar, including the Q&A session, to 90 minutes max (the majority of webinars tend to run about an hour). And remember that attendees have likely made time concessions in order to attend your event, so it's important to keep to the agenda and respect the expectations you established at the time of registration.

Tips for streamlining your live event, and retaining your audience's attention throughout:

  • Abstain from long introductions; likely, your audience has already viewed the speaker's bio and your company information on the event-registration page.
  • Ensure each slide is displayed for no longer than 90 seconds.
  • Save Q&A until the end, unless the moderator suspects a broad sense of confusion, in which case that point alone should be addressed during the actual presentation.

3. Leave Nothing to Chance

Poor execution and technical difficulties can easily lower user confidence and cause attendees to drop off early. By taking the following preparatory measures, you can help stave off potential glitches:

  • Rehearse: Before the event date, take time to test the technology and rehearse the entire webinar at least once—and do so at least 24 hours ahead of time so that there will be time to make any last-minute adjustments.

    Ryan added that it is pertinent that the speaker take part in this process; to avoid misunderstanding, you should clearly communicate such a requirement in your original agreement.

    "This isn't to make your speaker do her full presentation," Ryan explained, "it's to make sure her connection and hardware are stable, her slides look as expected, and she's familiar with the Web-conferencing controls."

    A test run will also give you a chance to time the presentation and help the moderator anticipate how much time will be available for Q&A at the end.
  • Play it safe: Many Web-conferencing technologies offer a variety of "bells and whistles" in addition to the basic features required to run a webinar. Though tempting, those fancy features will also limit your bandwidth, so your best bet is to stick to only those features you consider essential.
  • Prepare contingency plans: Take time to envision everything that could go wrong—such as the crashing of the Web-conference platform, or a problem with the speaker's or moderator's Internet connection while the event is in progress—and determine your plan of action for such instances.

    If a major issue does occur during the webinar presentation, prepare to act quickly with apologies to attendees and a prompt rescheduling of the event.
  • Prevent outside influences from disrupting the user experience: Before the presentation begins, encourage attendees to shut down email and any other Web applications that may interfere with your streaming audio.

4. Follow Up

For getting the most out of your webinar event in support of your business objective, the webinar itself is merely step one, the first real "touch." Afterward, it's important to continue those relationships in support of your original goals. A few suggestions:

  • Request immediate feedback: Learn how attendees felt about the event and whether they still have questions or require additional information; urging them during the event proceedings to complete a short survey directly following the webinar.

    Ryan noted that in MarketingProfs' experience, around 25-30% tend to respond if prompted before the seminar concludes, whereas only up to 10% respond if the request is made by email following the event.
  • Thank your attendees: Send a follow-up email to everyone who attends and thank them for participating; offer supplemental information such as whitepapers or related articles that they may find useful—and which further establish your organization as a trusted industry resource.

    Also, according to Handley: "It can be a nice touch to have the speaker answer any unanswered questions after the fact, and send them out to attendees as a PDF or Word doc, as bonus material."

    You might also use this opportunity to send your survey to anyone who wasn't able to complete it at the end of the event.
  • Provide ongoing accessibility: Allow your attendees to revisit the content, and enable new users to view it for the first time, by archiving the recorded broadcast on your site. Before you do, however, make sure you have the speaker's consent and you clearly communicate your intentions for reusing the content to that person ahead of time.

    Also, make it known that the webinar is still available on-demand by including that info in your thank-you note to attendees, and by emailing no-shows and new prospects the link.
  • Seal the deal: If you are using the webinar for lead generation, arm your sales talent with the qualifying information you've collected through the initial registration page and the survey conducted at the end of the event. If you provided links to view or download whitepapers and articles (as opposed to attaching them within your "thank you" email), also provide Sales with information about which materials interested which recipients. This level of insight will allow your team to have more-intelligent and informed interactions with prospects out of the gate, which may also help to accelerate the sales cycle.

5. Measure Performance

Of course, the real barometer of success will come through the cold hard numbers, so figure out ahead of time what you want to achieve (for example, webinar registrations, attendance, leads, sales, whitepaper downloads, etc.), then put the metrics in place to measure your performance against those goals.

Interested in the customer-engagement aspect of webinars? Check out the more than 300 Customer Engagement resources in the MarketingProfs Library.

Premium Plus Members may especially enjoy viewing Behind the Online Curtain: Secrets for Building a Successful Webinar Program, the highly rated webinar program tutorial from MarketingProfs's own Ann Handley and Shelley Ryan in the MarketingProfs Seminar Library.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.